Since the founders of Sitka Conservation Society acted to preserve land through Wilderness designations, we have continued to steward these areas and others across the Tongass National Forest. We help restore places damaged by logging to bring back salmon and wildlife habitat to its full ecological potential and build and maintain recreation facilities, helping people use and enjoy their public lands.
Recreation and Workforce Development
Over the years, we have advocated for construction projects to use local second growth wood and crews and contractors, and prioritize input from local communities. We’ve partnered with the US Forest Service and local contractors, businesses, and volunteers to perform upgrades on public use cabins across the Tongass and with Sitka High School on Advanced Construction classes that built the Tongass Tiny Home from 2015 through 2021.
We’ve worked on the Allan Point, Fred’s Creek, and Kanga Bay Cabins on the Sitka Ranger District and the Deep Bay Cabin on the Wrangell Ranger District and are looking forward to continuing to work with the Forest Service as they plan and implement new cabin locations and designs across the Tongass.
Buying locally manufactured wood products crafted from sustainably sourced Tongass timber provides jobs, supports local businesses, and facilitates intra-region commerce across Southeast Alaska. Working with Sitka High School to design custom place-based curriculums provides students with the opportunity to build valuable technical skill-sets, while exploring potential pathways to success in the regional economy.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Sitka Conservation Society partnered with the City and Borough of Sitka to establish the “Community Conservation Corps,” a transitional employment program aimed at stimulating the local economy and building local workforce by giving jobs to unemployed, underemployed, and furloughed workers. The SCS Corps took on a multitude of projects, ranging from cemetery maintenance to mountain bike trail construction, engineering improvements for popular local hot springs, and collecting field data and creating a proposal for a long distance, hut-to-hut hiking trail on the Tongass south of Sitka.
Stewarding Wilderness Areas
The Sitka Conservation Society formed when citizens gathered and spent years advocating for the designation of the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness, which was eventually achieved through the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980. One of the core strategies was to bring policymakers, media, and others to the area in order for them to form a meaningful connection to this place; the type of connection you can only get from firsthand experience. Since then, we have continued stewarding Wilderness areas across the Tongass as we seek to expand access and ensure ecological health, partnering with the US Forest Service to implement projects. Our staff and volunteers collect Wilderness user data, conduct research and archaeological surveys; clean up cabins, campsites and trash; monitor and remove invasive species; and maintain trails. We do work in all the Wilderness Areas of Southeast Alaska but primarily West Chichagof-Yakobi, South Baranof, and Pleasant, Lemesurier, Inian Islands Wilderness areas, which are closest to the communities of Sitka and Pelican.
We also look for opportunities to continue our legacy of catalyzing lifelong, inspiring connections between people and these unique areas of the Tongas by getting a variety of people out experiencing them. Our work to increase access to the Wilderness areas involves bringing together extended backcountry trips pursued through kayaking and camping, locally owned and operated sailboats, transport aboard freight and fishing vessels, or with local charter boat businesses and by hosting people at our remote property near Pelican.
Clearcut logging of old growth forests resulted in two primary impacts to ecosystems: the creation of dense second-growth forests and streams with impaired salmon habitat. In a second-growth forest, new trees grow back quickly but form dense, uniformly-aged forests. These impenetrable stands of trees block sunlight from reaching the forest floor, preventing the growth of understory flora and creating poor species diversity and habitat for Sitka black-tailed deer and brown bears. We’ve worked on habitat restoration projects like forest- thinning projects and wildlife habitat treatments to help forests regain old growth habitat characteristics and continue to advocate for these types of projects to keep happening.
During large-scale industrial logging on the Tongass, streams were used as roads to drive excavators and other heavy equipment to logging parcels. This led to significant losses of salmon habitat, especially along the 500 miles of riparian habitat that were targeted for the huge old growth trees along streambanks. In a healthy state, an old growth forest has trees that naturally fall into the water, diversifying water flow and providing small pool habitat for spawning and juvenile salmon. After a clear-cut, erosion and flooding interrupted the natural stream dynamic and functions, causing thousands of miles of streams to lose the structure and characteristics that produce salmon. Unmaintained or hastily built logging roads also caused problems by blocking streams or contaminating them with large amounts of sediment. We engage in stream restoration projects that involve replacing or removing bridges and culverts that block fish passages, and placing large trees in channels to create rearing habitat for fish.